Of breathing spaces and public places

From Lucy Peck’s absolutely brilliant DELHI: A Thousand Years of Building (2005):

There are numerous problems associated with Delhi that do not appear to have ready solutions. Some of the causes are easy to identify: it is widely understood, for instance, that low-density development causes traffic congestion. In the case of Delhi the situation is exacerbated by the lowest densities occurring in the ring that encircles the commercial heart of the city, while higher densities occur further out.

This phenomenon was recently termed (very aptly, I think) “the inverted suburb” by our Design studio faculty Dr. Leon Morenas. It definitely adds to -in fact, is one of the main reasons for- Delhi’s traffic problems, but I think I agree with Varun when he says that the solution can not be to increase the built in Lutyens Delhi. Can you imagine the city without this green centre as breathing space? Of course, there are other issues, such as how these green spaces are mostly private and also never used as such in our climate, but the point is that they also act as necessary lungs for the city. And how awesome is the fact that (according to the Masterplan 2021) Delhi is one of the greenest cities in the world?

The green lungs

Also from the same book:

Another easily identifiable problem is the astonishing amount of unused or ill-used land in the city centre, including a suprising amount of decayed industrial land that lies empty. Among many startling inept land use decisions must be counted the new Indraprastha Park between the Ring Road and the main north-south railway line near the Yamuna, which is inaccessible by foot from any residential neighbourhood apart from Sarai Kale Khan- surely a prerequisite for an urban park!

This park is very close to college, and this is another thing which I’ve always wondered about- who uses it? I never see any people about, though I confess I’ve never been inside, and only seen it from the road. Of course pedestrians can’t use it -crossing that stretch of the Ring Road is near impossible- and I don’t even see any cycles or cars outside it, so we can’t even say that non-pedestrians use it. Neither have I ever seen any hawkers or ice-cream walas (who unfailingly congregate around used public places).

The large public park(s?), bound by the railway line and the ring Road.

This just begs the question: What were they thinking? Actually, they probably had pretty good intentions, of providing Delhi with a very well designed and landscaped public park, but how could they not have thought of something as basic as accessibility?

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Update (28/09/2011), by Rohan Patankar

The Indraprastha Park opened in 2004 over a saturated landfill site. Hence, its location was not determined by its pedestrian linkages at all. I guess the intention was to give the city a green lung and a visually pleasant open stretch. (BTW, I absolutely love the Jaali detail on the boundary wall of the park, will try getting a picture soon). About the desertedness, I have seen lots of school buses and cars parked on weekend mornings, but surely, its complete potential hasn’t been realized. Partly because of inaccessibility, and partly because of its bleh function. If the need and use of the open space, could be identified (maybe, themed) more specifically, it would pull people out of their neighborhood parks, for stronger reasons, repeatedly.

So, what do you guys think? How can this Park be made more successful? What other intervention would have made more sense or been better suited to the site? Which public function (that the city lacks) could have been accommodated here?

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4 thoughts on “Of breathing spaces and public places

  1. because the current trend is to make parks restrictive, and hence throwing accessibility out of the window? if i can’t go to central park with my laptop, or i can’t sit on the stone parapets in the garden of five senses, or can’t play ball in defence colony’s ‘prize-winning’ ornamental gardens; i’d rather travel for an hour to lodhi gardens, hauz khas or mehrauli where i can do the above without (much) question. beyond the physical reach of a garden, i think the major issue lies in our treatment of the same as an ornament rather than utility.

    • I agree with you on the fact that the present tendency is to treat parks like ornamental and decorative add-ons to the city (and to private homes, which is also to do with the bit about Lutyen’s Delhi greens). But I would like to give the DDA (or whoever) the benefit of doubt and so I don’t think they *meant* to make public parks more inaccessible- i think they had good intentions which failed. Also, that when they apply all of those restrictive measures, they only look at the “national security” or “preventive measures against vandalism” or whatever aspects. I fail to grasp how they completely neglect the social and cultural functions of public spaces/places, considering who they are, their education and background, their *job* and the many advisors and resources they have at their disposal.

  2. i came across this brilliant article talking about the same dilemma. security and public places seem to be poles apart on the spectrum of govt. agendas, but the real challenge is for design to overcome this handicap, where one can inherently make public places safer. the fact that i’m calling this a handicap tells enough about my own reservations. well 😛

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